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Points to Ponder

At least three different people could be called the "narrator" of this story-the governess, Douglas, and the "I" who sits around the fireplace with Douglas and records his story. Why has James, here and throughout the text, made it so difficult to distinguish who is talking? Why are the most important issues in the story never named directly? Nothing is spoken of directly and explicitly in this story-and one character, the uncle who is technically in authority over all the characters in the story, even asks outright that no-one ever speak or write to him. It's also notable that Miles dies just when the governess is forcing him to speak explicitly about the main events in the story. What is the nature of the secret(s) in this story? What is so dangerous in this story about seeking an explanation which will stabilize and fix the story, and end it, as opposed to encouraging the mystery and ambiguity which will perpetuate the need for the narrative to continue, and to be passed along to new people?

What is the source of the evil in the story? Some commentators have suggested that the unspoken corruption that Quint teaches to Miles is homosexuality, and of course the "infamy" between him and Miss Jessel is probably a sexual liaison which resulted in pregnancy. Is the evil here more closely related to lying and deceit, or to sins of the body? Others have suggested that Miles becomes a stand-in for the uncle in Harley Street to the governess, both as an unconscious or repressed love object (note the description at the end of Chapter XXII) and also for the male social and economic entitlement, part of the societal forces which have placed the governess in her current isolated situation. It's also notable that most of the story-tellers in this story are seduced or in love-the governess with her employer, and Douglas with the governess. Is there a relationship between falling in love and the desire to tell stories?

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Framing Scene
Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Chapters 4, 5, and 6
Chapters 7, 8, and 9
Chapters 10, 11, and 12
Chapters 13, 14, and 15
Chapters 16, 17, and 18
Chapters 19, 20, and 21
Chapters 22, 23, and 24


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